Monday, March 8, 2010


The season might not have ended as planned...or began as planned for that matter...or at any time resembled what fans were expecting in 2010, but the time we've all been waiting for has finally arrived. The Nittany Lions, who were so incredible in the single-elimination tournament format last season that saw them travel from University Park to Gainesville to the Big Apple, have their spot in the conference tournament and a chance to punch their own ticket to the big dance.

Penn State drew the primetime slot for its first round game this Thursday against Minnesota, a team that has defeated the Lions twice this season by a total of eight points. It's difficult to know what to expect from the Golden Gophers, a squad that kicked off the season ranked in the top-20 but hasn't won more than two games in a row since the Big Ten season started.

The Gophers, slotted sixth in the Big Ten, need to at least reach the championship game, and that still might not be enough, to be considered for an at-large invitation. Should the Lions get by Minnesota, co-champion Michigan State awaits in the second round. A likely matchup with co-champion Purdue would follow should Penn State upset the Spartans and then a finals showdown against Ohio State or Wisconsin. It's a tough road to hoe for the Lions for sure, but maybe, just maybe, if all the fortuitous bounces and breaks that Penn State seemed to not get all season are repaid to it this weekend, this never-say-die team will get a chance to shine on the biggest stage of all.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The most cynical of Penn State basketball fans would never dream of a season like this one.

The roller coaster named "The 2010 Penn State Men's Basketball Season" continued to dip and dive on Thursday night, culminating in another heartbreaking one-possession loss to Michigan State in what has become a seemingly endless "loop de loop" of unfulfilling drama.

It's nearly pointless to analyze the game, when one could second-guess virtually every possession as the one that would have changed the outcome. Suffice it to say that the Lions showed tremendous guts in fighting back from numerous double-digit deficits on the road against a team that had everything to play for. The steal by Chris Babb with under a minute to go, the hustle by Bill Edwards to not allow an easy layup, the oh-so-close five-second call against Michigan State that didn't come and the last second race up the court by Talor Battle serve as little more than residue of another loss in a season full of missed opportunities.

Throughout the basketball desert that has been the last two decades of Penn State basketball, one might have allowed himself to longingly fantasize about a time when the Lions would blossom into a giant on the hardwood and claim vengeance for years of humiliating defeats. In his worst moments of frustration he might even have envisioned a team that would reset the record books for futility and finally hit the rock bottom of college basketball.

Yet I can't imagine a fan that could have predicted that Penn State, following what arguably was its best season in the history of the program, would follow a path littered with heartbreaking losses as it has this year. Thursday's two-point loss at East Lansing was the ninth this season that came by six points or less or in overtime. If there were a courtroom of college basketball for teams to air grievances, the Lions could call the thousands of fans in Nittany Nation to bear witness to the cruel and unusual punishment that has befallen it all year long. Had the Lions even split those contests, they would be above .500 overall and right in the middle of the conference standings.

There's one game left in the regular season and then a chance to punch a ticket to the big dance with four straight wins in Indianapolis. If this team hasn't given up by now, you can be sure that it will give everything its got to extend its season with a miraculous run through the conference tournament. Judging by the way things have gone to this point, Penn State will lose on a last second four-point play in the championship game.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Here's a suggestion for the next time Penn State's basketball team decides to do a team-building exercise...karaoke. That's right. Let coach Eddie D put on his best neon stretch pants and 80's hair band style wig and take the stage. The song...a somewhat improvised brand of David Lee Roth's version of California Girls that goes something like this: "I wish they all could be like Northwestern."

Penn State looks like an entirely different team against the Wildcats. Its offense actually looks fluid (the Lions two highest scoring outputs this season both came against Northwestern), its bench plays with confidence and contributes at both ends and its defense is active and makes Northwestern's offense look like...well, Penn State's usually does.

There's just something about the purple and white that brings out the best in Penn State. Typically, that something is just the fact that the Wildcats are awful. But this season, that's not the case as Northwestern was, as of two weeks ago, a serious contender for an at-large berth in the big dance. This year's bottom feeders, Indiana and Iowa (along with Penn State), both beat the Lions. Traditional basketball royalty Indiana drew a particularly uninspired effort from the blue and white in State College.

By contrast, Northwestern and its 18 overall wins has been a solid middle-of-the-pack team in the conference this year, but gave Penn State two of its three Big Ten wins by a combined 30 points. The only question that remains is whether or not Penn State can possibly draw the Wildcats again.

As the standings are right now, Penn State is tied for 10th with Indiana and, assuming both teams lose out, will draw the seventh seed as a first-round opponent in the conference tourney. And just who is that lucky number seven team? Northwestern.

There's still a week of regular season games left to be played, but even if the Lions can't improve their stock by pulling off an upset of in their next two games, they still might not be in bad shape to play into the weekend in Indianapolis. Considering the Lions next two opponents are both likely second-day matchups for Penn State in the Big Ten tournament, this week will be extremely valuable should the Lions draw one of those two teams in the postseason.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Another great video put together by Alex Cohen of Nittany Nation.


I'm sure coach Ed DeChellis will have a few more points on his bulletin board before this evening's game with ninth-ranked Ohio State, however I think everyone knows what the main goal is.

Ohio State will come into the Jordan Center tonight not only boasting a top-10 national ranking, but also a Player-of-the-Year contender in Evan Turner. Turner, a versatile junior point guard, has been heating up in 2010 since missing a month of play in December with two broken vertebrae.

Since Penn State has been spreading the scoring around (finally), Turner now leads the Big Ten Conference with averages of 19.5 points and 9.3 rebounds, and is second in assists at 5.8. He led Ohio State (21-7, 11-4) in a key win at Michigan State on Sunday. For the record, Talor Battle is in second averaging 19.0 points per game.

Turner has been relentless over his past few games (averaging just under 25 points over the last two, earning his sixth Big Ten Player of the Week honors), and it's obvious the Lions will have their work cut out for then. However, as the defense has been tightening things up over their last two road wins, they might just be peaking at the right time.

The Ohio State point guard hasn't taken as many three-point attempts this year as in year's past, however that doesn't mean Penn State's zone can relax with him at the top of the key. The key to limiting Turner's chances will be the Penn State big men tightening the middle of the zone, and the guards helping trap Turner in the corners. Similar to Coach Jim Boeheim's style of zone up north at Syracuse, the Lions will have to play with increased energy, constantly shifting to take away passing lanes - especially to the inside. It's obvious the Lions don't have the height or length as Syracuse's 2-3 zone, and have had trouble shifting in the past, however there's no reason to believe they haven't improved over weeks past.

In the Lions 13-point loss to the Buckeyes back in January (which was much closer than the score shows), Turner lit up the scoreboard for 27 points on 9 of 15 shooting, hitting 9 of 11 free throws. If PSU is going to keep the overall score low (which is always their goal), they'll need to limit Turner's opportunities without giving him an easy 10 from the free throw line. As he cuts to the basket with relative ease, quick hands and feet for Penn State will be dire.

All facets of the Penn State defense have shown signs of improvement, including Drew Jones who held his own against Michigan's DeShawn Sims. Sims, who averages 17.5 points per game, was held to only 10 points on Saturday. If everyone on the defensive end can play as aggressive tonight as they did against Michigan, a third-straight Big Ten victory might just be in the cards for the Nittany Lions.

If the scoring and rebounding can stay as balanced as they have been over the last week, I'd double those chances.

Sunday, February 21, 2010


What's better than winning your first Big Ten conference game? Winning two in a row. More than just doubling its win total in conference, Penn State's victory on the road against Michigan on Saturday symbolized the killing of two demons with one stone.

First, the Lions earned a tough road win in a place that has always given them problems. Secondly, Penn State finally won one of those close games that has tortured the team all season. The season isn't saved, not yet, but after twelve straight losses the start the Big Ten schedule, back-to-back wins have allowed this team and its fans to exhale.

The four point victory against the Wolverines wasn't much for aesthetics, but it was evidence of a team that finally conquered, at least for one game, the late game collapses that has become its trademark. A final look at the play-by-play from Saturday revealed another such drought, but this time, despite scoring just four points in the last 9:57 of the game, the team's defense and rebounding proved to be enough to steal a much-needed win.

The two straight wins weren't without their flaws, and nearly all of them, if not corrected, will be exposed by the Ohio State Buckeyes on Wednesday. It sounds strange to say given its struggles, but this team needs to continue to be motivated by its new-found success rather than relaxed by it. Sure, some of the pressure is off after shedding the "0-for-" label, but the Lions have three big dogs remaining on their schedule and can throw a monkey wrench into the conference standings if they can pick at least one of them off.

Not all of what has led to the change in fortunes of the squad can be explained on a whiteboard, but there are noticeable differences in the way the team has played. The Lions hoisted an average of 19.8 three-pointers per game during the 12-game losing streak but shot only 17 against Northwestern and tied a season-low with just 13 attempts against Michigan. This has been made possible by a seemingly concerted effort by the guards to get the ball in low with entry passes to the front-court players early in the shot clock. This attempt at balancing the floor has resulted in some easier buckets and an apparently more confident Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones.

Sure, the turnovers continue to be a problem and opponents still get wide open looks due to late rotations, but it is encouraging to see the team correcting the problems that plagued it to start the season. If only it could have engineered this turnaround six weeks ago.

Friday, February 19, 2010


For the first time since Penn State's thrilling run in the NIT Tournament last March, the squad was able to put together a full 40 minute team effort, which in-coincidentally resulted in their first Big Ten win of the season.

After relying on the prowess of Talor Battle all season, the rest of Ed DeChellis' squad decided to show up and bail the junior out on a night he was struggling from the floor (2-8, 1-6 from three). All five Lion starters scored in double figures, and it was the first time since Penn State had two players score at least 20 points since January 24th of last year.

Leading the charge were F David Jackson and G Chris Babb, who both had career games after heavily under-performing for the majority of the season. Jackson, who has struggled to find his rhythm on the floor this season, played with confidence as he recorded his seventh straight double-digit scoring game. Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones added 12 and 10 points respectively, on a night the Lions hit 56% from the floor and 41% from behind the arc.

However, as the Lions are traveling to Ann Arbor tomorrow (a place they've only won once in their previous 15 tries), they can't get caught up celebrating their first Big Ten victory. When Michigan made the trip to State College in early January, the Lions blew a 17 point lead, eventually losing by 9 in front of a paltry crowd of just over 5,000.

But, if they can build off Wednesday's performance, the Lions should be in good shape to contend for their second straight victory. With the exception of Babb (the only player in double figures), the Lions shot horribly from the floor against Michigan on January 7th. The Wolverines (13-12, 6-7), utilize a mix of a 1-3-1 and 2-3 zone which the Lions have traditionally struggled with, however against Northwestern on Wednesday, PSU had their way with the 1-3-1. Jones and Andrew Ott were consistently able to get inside the center of the zone, and Battle and freshman Tim Frazier had no trouble beating the Wildcats on the baseline or with the backdoor cut. While Michigan is holding their opponents to only 57 points over the past 10 games, the Lions will come into the Crisler Arena with the same game plan they had against Northwestern - get the ball to the middle forcing two guys to cover the ball, and kick out for an open look.

While Michigan's offense, led by DeShawn Sims and Manny Harris, is certainly more dynamic than the Wildcats, Penn State was able to keep them to 16 points during the first half of their last contest. If Penn State's 2-3 zone can successfully extend to keep Michigan from getting open looks from three, the inside three should certainly be able to hold their own on the defensive glass.

It's not very often you see Battle have two sub par games in a row, so you can look for him to come out hungry off the opening tip. If his supporting cast can come out with the same enthusiasm and confidence they had earlier in the week, the Lions should be able to stay close until the final whistle. Hopefully it'll be a flight home the TEAM can be proud of, not just Battle.